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Stilled in Christ

Psalm 46

Pastor Jason Zirbel

Reformation Sunday
Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

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Sun, Oct 30, 2016 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

It’s difficult to not look around at the world we live in, and not be convinced that this world is crumbling and coming undone at the seams.  These are some very scary times we’re living in, and thanks to the technological advances we’ve enjoyed in just the past two decades, we are now able to instantly know just how miserable the rest of the world is doing too.  We’re not alone in this destructive crumbling and coming undone.  I guarantee you could check your phones right now and find multiple stories about hurricanes, earthquakes, famines, and infectious diseases that are wiping out whole populations all around the globe, both near and far.  Faithlessness?  Idolatry?  Perversion?  Immorality?  Corruption?  Greed?  Crushing poverty?  Mass Unemployment?  Injustice?  Terrorism?  Scandal…aka “politics as usual?” None of this is a past-tense thing.  None of it is just a third-world reality.  It’s not just a repressive ISIS thing or North Korean thing or Central American thing or Libyan thing.  It’s our reality too. 

Folks: How many times have you heard me say, “There’s nothing new under the sun”?  As you well-know, I didn’t make that up.  That’s King Solomon speaking almost a full thousand years before the birth of Jesus, and even then he was lamenting how all the wretched sinfulness and terror and tumult was “old news.” From the moment Adam and Eve disobeyed God, fear, terror, corruption, greed, death, despair—it’s all been part of our reality.  Scripture tells us that once they fell into sin, Adam and Eve hid in terror at the sound of the wind rustling some leaves; at the sound of God Himself walking in the Garden.  How sad!  All of their descendants since then have known only a corrupt and fallen and crumbling, sin-filled world.  How very sad!

King Solomon’s dad, King David, certainly knew tumult and terror and corruption and greed and warfare and scandal.  He was no stranger to “politics as usual.” In fact, his son Solomon was the result of his own corruption and greed and scandal and warfare; the (second) son of Bathsheba.  Think about that.  Not only did King David know the fears and terrors of having all the other surrounding pagan nations breathing down the neck and threatening to storm the gates and overthrow Israel; not only did King David know natural terrors and destructions like famine, flooding, drought, and earthquake, sickness, and death, but he also knew the fears and terrors of the reality of his sinfulness.  We’re told that after the prophet Nathan opened David’s eyes to the reality of his sinful adultery and the attempted murderous cover-up, David went to his room full of grief and terror, where he penned Psalm 51, confessing his wickedness and calling upon God to forgive him and be merciful to him; to create in him a clean heart.  David knew the terror of being separated from God and His love.

And God did just that.  He forgave David.  We see it and hear it in some of the other psalms of David.  Psalm 32, which David wrote after his infant son, the offspring/result of his adultery and murder, had taken sick and died, proclaims: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.  Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity.” In the midst of the sorrow and pain of losing his firstborn son, David offers praise and thanks to God for the forgiveness and mercy so undeservedly shown to him. 

Psalm 46, which is our Old Testament lesson for today, joyously proclaims: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” David knew the joy and the peace of being safe and secure in God’s love and mercy.  It should come as no surprise that Martin Luther also found great peace and comfort in this particular psalm.  Luther, as all of you well-know, was no stranger to fear and terror and corruption and greed and murder.  He was a marked man!  Why?  Because he dared to call out sin and tell the Truth of God’s Word and will.  He dared to condemn the wickedness of works-righteousness and false peace and assurance.  He dared to speak out against those who sought to serve themselves and fill their bellies and their bank accounts while building a name for themselves, all under the auspices of “humbly serving God.” He dared to call out and condemn the sinful status quo.  Luther lived the rest of his life as a man marked for death, endlessly hunted and pursued by those who called themselves servants of Christ, all because he feared God more than man. 

And yet…out of all that fear and terror and death and chaos, Luther hears the sure and certain promise of God’s presence and peace.  “God is our refuge and strength, our very present help in trouble.  The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” This Gospel Word of assurance fills Luther’s heart with joy; joy that takes root in his heart and bears the fruit of faithful hymnody.  “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

Here’s the thing: I’m not here today to give you a little Reformation history lesson.  It helps, but it’s not our focus today.  What I want you to focus on today is the very thing that Luther focused on; the very same thing that King David focused on—the unbreakable, unshakeable, unconquerable peace of Almighty God.  There is nothing new under the sun.  It’s true of all the sinful terror and “politics as usual” that has plagued us and beaten us down since that fateful day in the Garden of Eden at the beginning of time, and it’s also true of the Gospel promise and peace that confronts and puts to death all these fears and terrors and doubts and tumults.  There is nothing new under the sun.

I want you to consider what God is speaking to you in these words of this particular psalm.  He gives you a very clear and terrifying image of a world that is absolutely crumbling and coming undone at the seams; a world that you are very familiar with; a world you call “home.” The earth is giving way, the mountains are being quaked and rocked and moved into the heart of the sea.  The waters are roaring and foaming and raging.  Mighty mountains of rock and earth are trembling like jello.  Nations are raging and warring and fighting, kingdoms are tottering…the very earth is melting away and being pummeled with desolation after desolation.  These are the words of Psalm 46, penned a thousand years before the birth of Jesus, but they could just as easily be the front page headlines in our news this morning.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

In the midst of all this terror and tumult and shaking and quaking, the psalmist tells us that there is Almighty God, our mighty and unshakeable fortress.  Out of the very midst of all this fear and sin and death and destruction, the voice of God pierces the darkness and the fog of war, commanding us: “Be still, and know that I am God.  I’m right here.  I’m with you always.  I’ve got it handled.  Be still.” I’m sure you’ve never really given this much thought.  Why would you?  After all, it’s fairly clear and self-evident.  Be still.  Stop all the running around and acting like Chicken Little, throwing your hands up in the air and crying and wailing that the sky is falling.  Be still, and know that I am God.

Well…here’s the thing: This is more than just a simple command, and certainly more than a mere suggestion or advice.  This is God’s authoritative, performative Word; the same Word that He spoke to raging storms that terrified His disciples and threatened to swamp and sink their little ark and send them to a dark, deep, and watery grave.  “Be still”…and it was.  This is God’s authoritative Word that created out of nothingness; that shaped and formed dark chaos into His light-filled good creation.  This is His performative Word; Word that does what it says and accomplishes His purpose and will.  Whilst everything else in life is tottering and teetering and crumbling and falling; whilst everything else in life is coming undone; whilst all hell is breaking loose all around us, God’s performative Word of peace pierces through the dark clouds of chaos and brings peace; a peace that surpasses all human understanding; a peace that can only come from Almighty God, and a peace that is only known in Almighty God. 

This Word of peace does what it says.  It gives you peace; peace to stand firm and be still and trust in the fact that God is in charge, and He is working all things for good, and He has you in the palm of His hand.  Nothing and no one can ever snatch you from Him, in spite of how tough or difficult things may get in life.  Folks: Just listen to that performative Word of peace and victory that He proclaimed out of the midst of that dark hell and agony of the cross.  Here on a wretched tree hung the One who became the curse for all sin.  Here on this tree of death the sinless Lamb of God humbly and obediently suffered the full wrath of His Father’s just anger and punishment for sin—your sin, my sin, and the sin of the entire world.  Here is when the sky turned blacker than night.  Here is when the earth quaked and mountains crumbled.  Even the very house of God suffered “damage,” that huge curtain that separated God from man being rent; torn in two…from top to bottom, from heaven to earth.  And it’s out of the midst of all that tumult and terror and death and destruction that Christ Jesus calls out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

I know what you were thinking.  You were expecting to hear, “It is finished.” Before that cry of victory, Christ faithfully calls out to His God…all while suffering the full wrath and punishment of sin; in spite of suffering true hell—being forsaken and forgotten by God and left utterly bankrupt of His love and grace.  No one else on this side of eternity has ever or will ever experience this hell.  Christ did…for us…for you…in full.  In the midst of that hellish forsakenness and darkness, Christ never lost faith.  In spite of all the terror, tumult, death, and destruction, Christ never lost faith.  God remained “His God.” And when that hellish wage was paid in full; when the full measure of wrath had been poured out and the last drop and dreg of divine punishment had been consumed, this is when He cried out in victory, “It is finished.” This is when the mighty fortress of God’s grace, mercy, and peace beamed brightest and towered tall over all humanity so that all could see and hear and behold the depths of God’s love for His fallen and sinful creation.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ: This is what God Himself has baptized you into.  This is your reality, right now and into all eternity.  Here in the font God Himself reached down through the water and spoke His performative Word to you, snatching you from the bonds of sin, death, and the devil, and putting His name upon your head and your heart, stilling you in His peace and grace, marking you as one redeemed by Christ the Lord.  Here, in just a couple of minutes, Christ your Lord will kneel down from heaven and once again reach out and still you—in the very midst of this quaking and shaking veil of tears—stilling you with His performative Word; peaceful stillness He gives to you in, with, and under the real and tangible elements of bread and wine.  “Take and eat.  Take and drink.  Be still.  Be at peace.  You are forgiven.  You belong to Me, and I am with you always.  It is finished.” It’s that simple.  It’s that powerful.  It’s your reality, right here, right now. 

May this ever-present and eternal peace of Christ be your rock, your fortress, and your peace all your remaining days, no matter what life throws at you.  May this peace of Christ, which surpasses all understanding, be and remain with you always.  Be still.  Be at peace.  Christ lives, the victory’s already won.  It is finished. 

AMEN



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